What could Ji Hwan Bae's long-term potential be with the Pittsburgh Pirates?
In 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Ji Hwan Bae after MLB voided his contract with the Atlanta Braves due to Atlanta's international free agency scandal. Since joining the Pirates, he has shown potential to be a good contact hitter for the Pirates.
In 2022, with the Indianapolis Indians, Bae showed exactly the type of player he is. In 108 games, he hit .289 with 8 home runs and 53 RBIs. He also drew 48 walks and struck out 80 times, boosting his OBP to .362.
One of the main factors of his play, is his speed at 29.7 ft/sec. This led to him stealing 30 bases and while getting caught 8 times. At the end of the 2022 season, he was called up, making his MLB Debut and playing in 10 games, hitting .333 with 6 RBIs, along with 2 hit-by-pitches and 2 walks, leading to a .405 OBP.
Bae started the 2023 season on the Pirate roster, playing in 76 games, and started at second base on Opening Day. His season was halted when he sprained his ankle, which led to a IL stint and needing a rehab assignment. He played 10 games at Triple-A, and to say he did good would be an understatement as he hit .344 with a .462 OBP and an OPS of .993.
In 335 MLB plate appearances this season Bae has hit for a .242/.304/.321 slash line. He's posted a wRC+ of 70, 71 OPS+, and an isolated slugging (ISO) of .079. He's drew walks at a 7.8% rate while striking out in 24.2% of his trips to the plate.
He has struggled offensively but showed at times what type of player he is, which is a flashy player. On April 11th, Bae hit a walk-off 3-run home run versus Astros closer Ryan Pressly, along with other times this season, making amazing jumping catches at the wall in center field.
Since returning from the injured list, he's played in 24 games, hitting .250 with an OBP of .308 and 8 RBIs. He also walked 7 times and struck out 22 times. This stretch also included an 8-game hitting streak, but since returning from an ankle injury, he hasn't attempted to steal much, with 3 stolen bases and 1 caught stolen.
Bae has one major upside with the Pirates, which is he is very versatile. He's able to play multiple positions such as second base, shortstop, and center field, while also being able to play the outfield corners if needed. Bae is one of the fastest players in MLB with a pretty strong arm and range in the field. While he's not the best fielder, he can play them satisfactorily enough while creating some amazing highlight reel plays.
When it comes to a possible breakout season, it seems likely he is due for one. His main problem hitting wise is that he struggles with off-speed and breaking pitches. When he makes contact with a curveball, his batting average is .103, and the best pitch he makes contact with is the four-seam fastball, hitting .289. Bae also does well against cutters hitting .323.
He needs to work this offseason on connecting better with the ball, as he is one of the league's worst sweet-spot hitters and at times seems to luck into getting hits. He also has been chasing the ball quite a bit this season while also having a need to reduce the strikeouts while walking more.